The early 20th century was a turbulent time in China. The lengthy Qing dynasty was overthrown during the 1911 Revolution, and it was replaced by the more democratic Republic of China. Class struggles ran deep and traditional attitudes were starting to clash with more modern mindsets. As the country opened more and more to the west, great metropolises like Shanghai bustled with foreign-controlled industries.
Film was popular in China as early as 1897, when Lumière and Edison films were first shown in the major cities. Early Chinese studios sprang up quickly, flourishing the most during a brief boycott on foreign films in the 1920s. But in general they faced tough competition from films imported from Europe and especially from Hollywood, which were wildly popular (as indeed they were everywhere in the world). But Chinese cinema did cultivate some gems, and one of the very brightest was the fragile star Ruan Lingyu.